The master sergeant, Obama, Chick-fil-A and missing details about religion


First things first: Yes, I know that people who volunteer to join the military need to realize that they are surrendering some of their First Amendment rights.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting issues linked to politics and, yes, religion in the recent Military Times article about the retired master sergeant who has filed a lawsuit claiming that toward the end of his 15-year service in the U.S. Army Band he was "systematically persecuted by a politically correct cabal."

The key is that Nathan Sommers claims that the leaders who controlled his career -- leading to a sub-par job evaluation and a shove out the exit door -- consistently "tried to censor his speech and mock his religious beliefs.”

So, what are the crucial details that a journalist would need to include in this piece in order to cover this man's claims in an accurate and fair manner?

At the very least, we need to know some specific details about his political beliefs and speech. But the most controversial angle here is the religion hook. That is essential. We need the details.

GetReligion readers will not be shocked to learn that the Military Times team does a good job with the political material. Religion? Not so much.

Consider these political bullet points:

* During the 2012 election season, his display of several anti-Obama bumper stickers on his personal vehicle. Defense Department regulations specifically permit such political speech.
Stickers included the phrases: “Nobama,” “Political dissent is not racism,” Nope 2012,” and “The Road to Bankruptcy is paved with Ass-Fault” (showing a Democrat donkey). Another read “Pray for Obama -- Ecclesiastes 10:2.” This bible passage states: “A wise man’s heart tends toward his right, but a fool’s heart tends toward his left.” ...
* His reading of books by conservative authors such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin while in uniform, something he claims he was ordered to stop doing by a command sergeant major.

So far, so good -- including the use of the specific quote from Ecclesiastes.

It is clear that this man is no fan of the Commander in Chief. I would have, of course, appreciated some kind of quote from the relevant military documents on what personnel are allowed to do, and not do, linked to political speech. Once again, there are facts out there.

But the loaded charge here is religious discrimination. Thus, it is absolutely crucial that this news report include some specifics there. And what do readers get? Well, there is this:

* His tweet in September of that year announcing he’d be serving Chick-fil-A at his promotion party “[i]n honor of the repeal of DADT.” The fast-food chain was making headlines at the time for its stance against same-sex marriage.

The story also notes that Sommers talked to Fox News about his religious discrimination claims, which appears to have led to reactions against him. But, again, what was the content of his religious claims?

Readers know that the Times has the details, because the story says so:

The lawsuit states that the Article 15 “was taken in reprisal for Plaintiff’s protected expression of his religious beliefs.” It’s one of many allegations leveled in the document, which was provided by Wells to Army Times, including the assertion that the ... process should’ve been delayed or postponed because the evaluation that triggered it was under appeal and remained so until Sommers’ last day of service -- July 31, the day before the 25-page complaint was filed.

So, let's start with a basic question: Is this man a Christian, a Jew or what? Is he an evangelical, a Pentecostal believer or a Roman Catholic? What church does he attend?

Note that he symbolically -- a tweet, and in actions -- opposed liberalized military policies linked to gay rights. Well, that stance has religious content as well as political. That might have as much to do with the Bible and religious tradition as it does with fried chicken.

In other words, while the heart of this lawsuit is the Sommers claim of religious discrimination, yet this is precisely the part of the Military Times report that is on the thin side, to say the least. Why is that?

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